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Boasting about how hectic life is, or humblebragging may be the new status symbol among Americans, suggests a study by the Harvard University.

It was found that Americans tend to perceive busy and overworked people as having high social status. While high status Americans a generation ago may have boasted about their leisure time, today they are likely to engage in humblebrag, to prove that they are ‘in demand’.

According to the study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people often use phrases such as “I have no life” and “I desperately need a holiday”, to indicate social standing. Ordering food or shopping groceries online is the perfect way to prove that one is too busy and important to go to the supermarket.

“We examined how signalling busyness at work impacts perceptions of status in the eyes of others,” wrote study authors Silvia Bellezza from Columbia University, Neeru Paharia and Anat Keinan from Harvard University.

“We found that the more we believe that people have the opportunity for social affirmation based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing.”

Researchers conducted several tests to understand the perception of status and busyness. One of the tests required participants to analyse busyness by reading Facebook statuses and describe the individual’s social status, wealth, and income.

Interestingly, people with Facebook updates about their overworked lifestyle were perceived to be higher in status than those with updates on a leisurely lifestyle. It has been found that people’s social mobility beliefs are psychologically driven by the perception that busy individuals possess desirable characteristics, leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.

“In recent years, featuring wealthy people relaxing by the pool or on a yacht, playing tennis and polo, or skiing and hunting are being replaced with ads featuring busy individuals who work long hours and have very limited leisure time,” said Neeru Paharia.

“Displaying one’s busyness at work and lack of leisure time operates as a visible signal of status in the eyes of others,” she said.

Through studies involving people from the US and Italy, researchers found that contrary to Americans perception of being busy as having higher status, Italians associated leisurely lives with higher status.

Findings also suggest that brands that portrayed themselves as busy and timesaving were considered to be of high status.

“We uncovered an alternative type of conspicuous consumption that operated by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals,” added the authors.


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